This was the first test of many for Lancaster's newly-announced world cup squad; facing leading rivals Ireland at home. The Irish have proved themselves a thorn in England's side in previous encounters, showing clinical attacking threat when in possession of the ball. After a frankly underwhelming performance in France, England needed a positive result to restore momentum going in to the world cup or questions would no doubt need answering.
|Jonny May celebrates England's first try of the game|
Fully aware of this, England's start was electric with wing Jonny May powering through the tackle of Tommy Bowe to touch down after only three minutes. A beautifully lofted pass from scrum half Ben Youngs allowed May to evade the attempts of both Bowe and fullback Simon Zebo to give England their first try. George Ford delivered the afters with a well-hit conversion; England led 7-0 after the opening exchange. Although Ireland's Jonny Sexton hit back with a penalty at the other end, the Twickenham crowd didn't have long to wait until England's other wing, Anthony Watson, collected a perfectly-timed cross field kick from Bath teammate Ford, delivering England's second try of the game. This time Ford couldn't add to the scoreline, however England led Ireland 12-3 at the fifteen minute mark.
Throughout the first half England were clearly the team in control, enjoying the majority of possession and attacking opportunities. The back three were dominating the aerial battle with Brown making a number of outstanding catches under a pressured Irish attack, while May and Watson harried the Irish defense under the high ball. In the 25th minute Jonny May appeared to have crossed for his second of the game, however was disallowed after the pass from Tom Youngs was declared forward by the TMO. Despite building the pressure on Ireland, England were unable to capitalise on their opportunities and add to the scoreline before the half time break.
|England exuded dominance in the aerial battle|
Head Coach Joe Schmidt must have given Ireland some talking to in the changing room as the green shirts hit the second half with renewed vigour and attacking intent. Despite a successful penalty from Ford in the 47th minute, Ireland appeared to have found their fluency, leading to another Sexton penalty and a try from skipper Paul O'connell. After Irish lock Toner won a lineout in the home side's 22, a couple of well-executed forward phases allowed O'connell to muscle over the English line, and with Sexton's conversion the Irish came within two points; England clung on to lead 15-12.
Further wasted opportunities prevented England from taking a commanding lead in the second half, despite some brilliant individual performances from the likes of Brown, Wood and Billy Vunipola who replaced Morgan at number 8. Richard Wigglesworth, on for Ben Youngs, darted over the whitewash in an attempt to secure England's third try however was denied by the TMO yet again. Two successful penalties from replacement fly half Owen Farrell allowed England a little room to breathe, making the final score 21-13 to the home side.
While England appeared to have secured dominance both on the ground and in the air, Lancaster and his coaching team will be slightly disappointed with the lack of accuracy in finishing off a number of chances. While victory was still achieved, the same may not be said for the world cup group matches, in which the score lines are likely to be very tight. Having said this, England made a marked improvement upon their defeat in Paris a fortnight ago and appear to be heading in the right direction, with many more positives then negatives to discuss.